Chris Robinson Talks about the Ottawa Animation Festival


The Ottawa International Animation Festival takes place next week. If you’ve never been, GO! It’s a wonderful event to catch up with what’s new and fresh in the world of animation.

The festival is big, but not so big that the focus ever shifts from filmmakers and their films. The low-key vibe feels just right, and plenty of filmmakers attend which keeps things from getting boring. The all-you-can-watch buffet of special screenings and competition selections are impeccably programmed, and much of that can be attributed to the festival’s artistic director, Chris Robinson, who is also the author of many fine books on the subject of animation. He spoke with Cartoon Brew about this year’s festival:

CARTOON BREW: Having to watch so many films for preselection every year, you have a better perspective on indie animation than most. I’m curious what are the emerging trends you’ve seen in short films this year? Have you seen any broad changes in animation–stylistically, technique, or content-wise–over the past few years of directing the festival?

CHRIS ROBINSON: I dunno. I never have an answer to that question. Every year the films are diverse in terms of content and technique….so it’s hard for me to say that there are any specific trends. If there’s one thing I noticed this year it’s the length of the films. We’ve got at least a handful of 15 minute plus films in competition. All are strong works and it’s likely just one of those years, but I wonder if this is leading more animators towards features.

I guess if there’s a content trend at all it’s films dealing with social issues. A few films deal with war, environment and consumption. Normally not my cup of tea (cause they tend to be preachy) but these works were quite different, more mature and informed.

It’s very difficult for me to really be blown away by a film after all these years. I see some fantastic films (and a lot of crud) but few that are really ground-breaking. But that’s my problem. I’m disappointed by the quality of features and adult TV shows, but, again, this changes from year to year. Last year there were some great features. This year their ain’t. So it goes.

CARTOON BREW: I’m looking forward to checking out the four-part Japanese animation series you’ve prepared this year. Tell us about how you designed these programs and how it ties in with your new book? It seems like we don’t hear about a lot of the independent animation coming out of Japan because the mainstream anime industry is so overwhelmingly dominant. Is it the same in Japan or do they carve out space for independent creators within the country?

CHRIS ROBINSON: The programs feature pretty much features of all of the artists I visit in the book. There’s a focus specifically on Tezuka whose short films are miles away from his Anime work. The other two are overviews of indie animation from about the 1950s onward. Very eclectic mix including more known animators (Yamamura, Kawamoto, Kuri etc…) and lesser knowns. The fourth screening showcases work by two brilliant newish animators, Atsushi Wada and Kei Oyama. They’re not all that well known in the indie animation community but both have been making incredibly unique works. 

Nobuaki Doi is curating the two indie programs. He went beyond the book and added a number of works that I don’t cover in the book. So combined, the book and screenings really offer an extensive and well rounded intro to this lesser known side of Japanese animation.

And yes… like every other bloody country, the indie are pretty much ignored and overshadowed by mainstream animation (in this case, Anime)

CARTOON BREW: What are some of the special events, workshops and guests that you think attendees should look for especially?

CHRIS ROBINSON: Aside from Pixar and Disney presentations (sort of an annual thing now), there’s three exhibitions with two of them focusing on non-animation artists (including our poster creator Andrea Stokes). The other is connected with Lipsett Diaries. Theo Ushev is creating a series of new works inspired by Lipsett.

There are a trio of masterclasses and one that stands out features Caroline Leaf. You don’t hear a lot about her these days so it’ll be a rare opportunity for people to meet her and get an inside scoop on her work. The NFB is also releasing a dvd of her works.

One other presentation that I find interesting is Kenk: Animating a Graphic Novel. Kenk is a graphic novel (with Toronto and Ottawa creators) that follows the true life of story of a Toronto bike store owner who is apparently the world’s biggest bike thief. His views on the world and what he’s doing with the bikes is quite fascinating. Anyway…they’re turning this into an animation film so the creators will be on hand to talk about the process.

There will also be a lecture about Tezuka given by one of the big chiefs at the Tezuka studio. So….it’s a pretty good balance again. Something for the artsy fartsy crowd and more mainstream youngsters. Oh…and parties too.